From the February/March 2011 Issue:

Artful Transformation

    Writer: Iyna Bort Caruso | Photographer: Peter Rymwid | Exterior/Interior Architecture: David Estreich, AIA, and Brian Blackburn, AIA | Interior Design/Space Planning: Thomas C. Burger, ASID |

A Short Hills couple create a vessel for their world-class art collection

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enlarge | A sycamore tree frames the stucco-and-wood-clad entry pavilion of the home, which looks deceivingly modest from the front.
If you own a painting by Pablo Picasso, you build a room around it. If you own an entire blue-chip art collection, you build a house around it.

That’s what a Short Hills couple did three years ago when they bought a 1950s ranch set on two acres, gutted it and turned it into a vessel to house their master works. Call it MoMA lite. The world-class collection includes not only a Picasso canvas but paintings and sculptures by the likes of Alexander Calder, Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter and Roy Lichtenstein, among others.

Breaking the Box
Handling the transformation were David Estreich and his associate, Brian Blackburn, of David Estreich Architects, a full-service architecture and interior design firm based in New York City, both of whom are members of the American Institute of Architects, in collaboration with Thomas C. Burger, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and principal of Zen Interiors in Las Vegas. The home was renovated and enlarged with a more-than-passing nod to the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. The new footprint “broke the box” with a kitchen wing and a bedroom wing to form what Estreich calls a broken pinwheel. “The idea was to give the home a low-key face in the front and a courtyard in the back for entertaining,” he says, “and also to meld the residence into its landscape in a very Wrightian way.”

The 10,000-square-foot home has five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. The floor plan is a meandering one. “The owners liked the idea of a rambling layout,” Estreich says. You don’t just walk through the house. You wander.

The architectural elements are subtle yet powerful. Changing floor levels and ceiling heights differentiate the feeling from one room to another. A low ceilinged-corridor leads down to a sunken living room with great volume, for example. There are vaulted ceilings in the foyer and bi-level ceilings in the dining room. Modulating
the space defines it with a sense of openness — or intimacy.

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enlarge | Sun pours through the foyer by way of a framed skylight highlighting an Alexander Calder mobile. The entry doors are custom made of bronze and framed by stained glass sidelights and transom. The painting is by Gerhard Richter.
Experiencing Art
The home is all about livability. And, of course, it is about living with art in a way that’s well beyond hanging paintings on a wall, gallery-style. “This house is about experiencing art, not just looking at it,” Estreich says.

Gutting the original home and starting over gave the homeowners the opportunity to create spaces and optimize visibility for specific works of art. Every wall, seating arrangement and window was considered carefully. Even the cabinetry and woodwork were designed for their artistic qualities (Estreich and Blackburn designed the cabinetry for the kitchen and bathrooms, while Burger designed the woodwork elsewhere in the home). There was no such thing as having to rejigger, rework or reshuffle to highlight a canvas. The Picasso painting hangs strategically above a (nonworking) fireplace rather than simply on a blank wall like in a museum. The architects and designer specified built-ins to showcase certain pieces. Cutouts in the walls serve as platforms for sculptures and allow the eye to focus on works in adjacent rooms. “You’re always aware of the art beyond,” Estreich says. And to that end, flow was an integral element of the overall design. The home’s palette—muted colors on Venetian stucco walls and pale limestone floors—allows the pieces to pop. Nothing overwhelms the art. There are no happy accidents. Every work of art has a dedicated home.

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enlarge | The family room features a Wrightian stained glass ceiling. The room looks out onto an enclosed sculpture garden with works by Botero, Shapiro and others.
This is the couple’s primary residence, and they also have homes in Florida, Manhattan and at the Jersey shore. Estreich says they all share a theme in which art, architecture and elements of nature circulate through the residence. In the Short Hills living room, for instance, a wall of Wright-style “prairie” French doors opens onto a beautifully planted terrace. The result is a landscape that becomes part of the interior artscape.

There are important works of art in virtually every room—at least in every room in which it’s practical. In utilitarian rooms such as the kitchen and bathrooms, Estreich and Blackburn maintained the sculptural sensibility with artisan light fixtures, custom woodworking and high-craftsmanship finishes. The home strikes the perfect balance of art, artisanship and architecture. “But for the homeowners, the major satisfaction is that it is, first and foremost, a home,” Estreich says. A place to read, to relax, to enjoy their extended family and to entertain guests. “It’s not a gallery or a museum.”


Overall: exterior and interior architecture, David Estreich and Brian Blackburn, both AIA, of David Estreich Architects in New York City; interior design and space planning, Thomas C. Burger, member of the American Society of Interior Designers and principal of Zen Interiors Inc. in Las Vegas; contractor, Vanco Construction in Livingston. Living Room: limestone floor, American Marble & Stone Works in Weehawken; sofas and coffee table near the fireplace, Donghia in Mount Vernon, New York, and Zen Interiors, respectively; coffee table and seating on the opposite end of the room, Thomas C. Burger; cabinetry (here and in the foyer), Lico Contracting Inc. in New York City. Family Room: seating and coffee table, Todd Hase in New York City; carpet, Doris Leslie Blau Gallery in New York City. Dining Room: floor, Thomas C. Burger. Kitchen: cabinetry, St. James Kitchens and Baths in New York City; granite, American Marble; flooring, Shelly Tile in New York City. Master Bedroom: bed, Keller Williams Furniture in Tulsa, Oklahoma; night tables, Thomas C. Burger Design; carpeting, Patterson, Flynn & Martin in New York City; seating, J. Robert Scott in New York City. Her Bathroom: sink, Hardware Designs Inc. in Fairfield; cabinetry, Jacob Froehlich Cabinet Works in New York City. Powder Room: tile, Shelly Tile; light fixtures, MSK Illumination in New York City; sink, Hardware Designs Inc.; cabinetry, Jacob Froehlich Cabinet Works.

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